VIDEO: Interior Secretary Jewell in closed-door meeting with water contractors
by Gene Beley, Delta Correspondent

March 12, 2014 5:00am
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•  Visits the Central Valley Project’s Byron pumping plant

•  Is she pushing the twin tunnels?

Interior Secretary Jewell at CVP press conference

(Photo by Gene Beley)

Tunnel protestors

(Photo by Gene Beley)

Give us your opinion after reading press conference transcript and viewing video below. Click on the comment icon to add your thoughts.

U.S. Secretary of the Interior, London born Sally Jewell, 58, formerly president and CEO of outdoor gear retailer REI, has climbed Vinson Massif, the highest mountain in Antarctica. This week she came to California to climb the even tougher mountain of the California water wars and drought situation.

She toured the federal C.W. “Bill” Jones Pumping Plant in Byron and met behind closed doors with water contractors – the organizations that buy water from the federal irrigation project – but not with representatives of the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, she met with reporters in an outdoor press conference in front of the incoming Mendota Canal. John Laird, California Secretary for Natural Resources and a former state Assemblyman, accompanied Ms. Jewell on the press tour of the plant, but remained silent during the press conference. Acting Commissioner of Interior’s Bureau of Reclamation Lowell Pimley and other officials also were present at the event, but did not speak.

The closest protesters from the Delta environmental group Restore the Delta got were at the front gate showing their Save the Delta and other twin tunnel protest signs as the Jewell cavalcade of cars entered the pumping station.

Here is the transcript of the press conference and, at the end of the transcript, you’ll see the names of the VIPs who were allowed to attend the closed door meeting with Secretary Jewell. You can either read the transcript or watch the video.

Jewell: “I’ve been spending the last hour and half with stakeholders in the really important discussions about California water and the drought. I’ve been talking with farmers and people from the Central Valley Project and my colleagues at the Bureau of Reclamation and U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service and U.S. Geological Survey and the state [of California] with John Laird, who is here [standing next to her silently]. With the state and number of water users who are struggling through this profound drought situation in California right now, it has been very helpful to hear the perspectives of people who depend on water. It is very helpful to see a facility like this 60 year-old one that has been so valuable in supporting farmers in the Central Valley of California as the population has grown and the acres irrigated has grown. But we’re having a rough year with water. One of the reasons I’m here is to hear first-hand from folks who are feeling the effects of water and the economic impacts it will have on them and the tradeoffs we will have in water management. In my role, as part of the Federal water family, we can be at the table as a constructive partner.

KGO Radio-TV reporter: “Were you able to tell the farmers anything definitive today in this roundtable discussion in terms of funding or anything?”

Jewell: It’s fair to say the farmers have been at the table all along.

Gene Beley, Central Valley Business Times: Were the Delta farmers involved?

Jewell: “I can’t answer that question. They were mostly south of the Delta.

Beley: That’s always been the case. I think you have something to answer about that.

Jewell: Do you have a question?

Beley: Yes, why isn’t the Delta able to be at the table more?

Jewell: I will tell you, Sir, in my role in Washington D.C., I’ve met with folks north of the Delta and I’ve heard their concerns. It’s important that we take in all points of view. Today we talked about the Central Valley Project.

Beley: But you are here in the backyard of the Delta people and you don’t invite the Delta stakeholders?

Jewell: Well, this is a very large and complicated state. It’s important that we are here and we listen to all perspectives. The perspectives I heard today were from one component. I can’t address all the issues on every visit but this certainly won’t be my last visit to California.

NBC TV reporter: What can you tell people about the role of the Interior Department and what can you do right now or in the future?

Jewell: The Bureau of Reclamation built these facilities back in the 1940s, 50s, and 70s that have delivered water to so much of California. We’ve done it in partnership with state organizations and managed water jointly. We’re at the table with the state on a regular basis. Right now you are facing the most serious drought situation in historical memory. 1977 was the worst year. You had a great water event just a few weeks ago that got you almost even with 1977, but you’re still 15 inches of rain behind where you normally should be.

“So what can the federal family do to address the situation? One of the things we can do is to be around the table to understand the issue and urge our partners from the state and federal level to exercise as much flexibility as they have within the laws we are required to uphold to address the situation here in California.

“An example: The U.S. Geological Survey, Fish & Wildlife Service and National Fisheries is working together to increase the amount of flexibility of longer time of water flows so, when there is a major rain event, more water can be pumped.

“We are pumping significantly more water this year, partly as a result of that flexibility. The important thing is getting everyone to the table, because Mother Nature has created this drought. It has not been created by the Bureau of Reclamation, or the state of California. But working together, we can put as much flexibility in place as possible to satisfy as many users as possible, recognizing that nobody is going to get the amount of water that they are hoping for. We have senior water rights, junior water rights, and all kinds of legal complexities that we have to operate within. What’s helpful is the people are around the table together on these issues.

KQED Radio Reporter: “Governor Brown has said he can’t make it rain. Neither can the federal government. But what specifically in the short term can the federal government do?”

Jewell: “in the short term, we can introduce as much flexibility as the laws allow us to take advantage of significant rain events as we’ve recently had that enable us to preserve as much water while also meeting the needs from environmental to agricultural and industrial needs. A lot of it is understanding science. U.S. Geological Surveys provides that to us. They know salinity levels. They know flow rates. We work closely with all the stakeholders to help us make smart decisions as we can to conserve as much water as we can. Another thing everyone can do is use the least amount of water possible. That’s agricultural, individuals, and municipal users.

“California has done a great job. Since 1977 your population increased from 21 million to 38 million people who are relying on these water supplies. Yet you’ve done a lot of that through conservation. So these systems put in place have served their needs. Long term, the governor and the state are working on a long term plan for water and we will be at the table with the Bureau of Reclamation, Fish & Wildlife, and the National Marine Fisheries Services and the USGS to see what is likely to happen over the long term in terms of drought scenarios and rainfall—and how do we build an infrastructure that addresses the importance of the industries in California from agriculture to industrial to municipals so that you have a long term solution, just as this solution was put in place many decades ago that has served California so well.

“Planning and using the best available science, including the climate change scenario, which is happening all over the landscapes ever place I go. We’ve got to look forward. We can’t just fix what we have. There are people who would say it is about supporting the environment and the flows that could be going to other users, but it is pretty clear there is not enough water for anyone right now—species or habitat.

KQED: “The Governor is a strong believer in these Delta tunnels. He wants Obama and you to adapt to this plan. Where are you on that?”

Jewell: “The Bay Delta Conservation Plan has been in the works for many years. It is a plan certainly with controversy and I’ve heard from a number of elected officials and folks in the environmental community opposed to it. I’ve also heard from many people in support of it. What is important is that everyone stay at the table to understand the competing needs of the water and the best way to move that forward. I do think that the work that has gone into the concept of the tunnels is an important one for Californians to consider, but within that, there are choices to be made about the size and capacity of the facilities. All of these things are being discussed right now by people who know a lot more about it than I do.

KGO: When you said there is not enough water for anybody, and we need more flexibility, can you elaborate a little bit more?

Jewell: “The National Wildlife and Fishery Services and Fish & Wildlife Service in conjunction with U.S. Geological Surveys, have extended the amount of time to do assessments of the amount of water flow necessary to take more advantage of the high rain flow events that you have. They are doing everything they can within the laws to move as much water while doing their job to protect the species.

Beley: What is your position on the twin tunnels?

Jewell: “As I answered the man (from KQED) a few minutes ago, the tunnels plan has been in place for a long time. I think it is an important potential solution for people to consider seriously. There are a lot of unanswered questions in terms of the size of the tunnels. But when you do have major rain events, the ability to capture liquid water when the frozen water is through the snow pack is not as high as it once was is important. The Bureau of Reclamation has been at the table, along with the state and other partners on the tunnel option. We will continue to evaluate that very seriously through the BDCP. But we will also be taking into account the very significant positions that exist out there with regard to the tunnel.

NBC: What about other infrastructure like reservoirs?

Jewell: Less water coming down from the Sierras and more water coming down in liquid form are just going to be part of the long-term solution. We are riding on an infrastructure that was built many decades ago. We are putting more demands on that infrastructure than it was intended to serve. A lot of that has been through conservation, but long term is what the state is working on in its plan. We need to understand what those water demands are and we need to understand, I suspect, that storage will be an important part of it. It’s certainly not a short-term solution.

“We also know this is an earthquake prone area. We have to think about our facilities in the context of climate change and potential natural disasters like earthquakes.”

According to Blake Androff, deputy director of the Office of Communications for the Interior Department, here are the 11 names and titles of the VIP “stakeholders” at the closed-door meeting with Ms. Jewell:

• Dan Nelson, executive director, San Luis and Delta Mendota Water Authority

• Michael Stearns, chairman, San Luis and Delta Mendota Water Authority

• Frances Mizuno, deputy executive director. San Luis and Delta Mendota Water Authority

• James O’Banion, chairman, Exchange Contractors

• Steve Chedester, executive director, Exchange Contractors

• Don Peracchi, president, Westlands Water District

• Tom Birmingham, general manager, Westlands Water District

• Tony Estremera, chairman, Santa Clara Valley Water District

• Beau Goldie, CEO, Santa Clara Valley Water District

• Ron Jacobsma, general manager, Friant Water Authority

• Harvey Bailey, chairman, Friant Water Authority


Watch the video of the full press conference here:

U.S. Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell tours federal C.W. "Bill" Jones pumping plant in Byron, CA from Gene Beley on Vimeo.

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Comments on this story

Victoria Sheridan 3/12/14 3:25 PM
Thanks Gene Beley for posting this video! You can see my photographs of this event here:

Lynn Miller 3/12/14 9:45 PM
Secretary Sally Jewell and the ‘Federal Family’ are treating Delta Farmers like the proverbial “Red Headed Step Child.” She indicated that she met today with stakeholders, aren’t Delta farmers stakeholders too? Oh wait, she did indicate she met with folks from north of the Delta (in Washington D.C.). Let me make sure I have this straight; here in the Delta she met with water officials from the south-central valley. And it was necessary for farmers from north of the Delta to travel 3,000 to Washington D.C. to met with her. But she did not see fit to meet with any Delta representatives right here in the Delta! Why? Secretary Jewel, please come back and let us show you ground zero. It’s a beautiful, bountiful, combination of agriculture, recreation and wildlife habitat. You will be able to visit hundred-year-old family farms, meet fifth and sixth generations Delta farmers. We will take you by boat on a scenic, picturesque trip through the Delta. You will be able to view extensive flocks of Sandhill Crane, Snow Egrets, Greater Egrets, Blue Heron, Red-tailed Hawks, all in their own habitat. We will feed you a wonderful lunch created from the abundance that is our Delta. Come talk with us too.

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